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Today I finally made the sacrifice to buy a new laptop since I've had my old one for over 8 years now, which makes it almost obsolete.  The nice thing is that in the last few years technology has advanced to the point that one can now have the option of buying a low-priced "cloud computing" laptop without the cumbersome Windows operating system.

For my purposes, which include web development, social media, and online marketing, a "Chromebook" works just fine, since it comes with a host of Google Application (apps) that more than meet my needs as a small business consultant.

Another reason I decided to get the new laptop today was because I've scheduled an important meeting with a customer tomorrow, Friday, and we were planning on working on several aspects of an ongoing project.  After postponing the meeting two times during the last few weeks, I was eager to finally meet tomorrow so we could finalize the project...

For a number of reasons, I was planning to take BART (SF Bay Area Rapid Transit) to an East Bay city for my meeting.

To prepare, I've been doing a lot of time-consuming work ahead of the meeting, and had everything ready to go.  Again, I was really looking forward to it.

So during a casual conversation with my wife, when I reminded her I was planning to take BART to the meeting with my customer tomorrow, she mentioned that she just heard that the unions negotiating a new contract may be going on strike tonight at midnight.

My first, immediate reaction, was to close my eyes, tilt my head up, and take a deep breath, disappointed, deflated, thinking about having the postpone the meeting one more time, not being able to use my brand spanking-new laptop to get over the finish line and finalize the project, which has taken a little too long.

But that sense of disappointment lasted about 2 or 3 minutes, since I long ago decided that when it came to collective actions by workers standing up for their rights, for economic fairness, I will always support them regardless of any inconvenience (or even extreme hardship) it may cause me, personally.

And I'm very serious about it... Here's the thing: the ruling elite is systematically subjugating the working class, stripping away rights, protections, benefits; instituting an increasingly oppressive legal framework that's basically encircling the citizenry into some sort of virtual cage.

Unfortunately, I've determined (and this is my personal opinion) that these things are happening ever so gradually, and for some reason (maybe it's normal) people don't seem to understand the urgency of the situation, instead reacting to the oppression in a piecemeal manner, not understanding that it is being imposed in a systematic way.  I call it creeping fascism.

If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning.

They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what a people will submit to, and you have found out the exact amount of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them; and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.

The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress. Men may not get all they pay for in this world; but they must pay for all they get. If we ever get free from all the oppressions and wrongs heaped upon us, we must pay for their removal. We must do this by labor, by suffering, by sacrifice, and, if needs be, by our lives, and the lives of others.

- Frederick Douglass

Because of it, I long ago decided that unless there is a massive resistance to this creeping brutality, the abuses will continue unabated, resulting in an ever increasing gulf between the rich and the rest of us, in the further deterioration of the middle class, in the swelling in the ranks of the poor and the dispossessed, in a veritable oppressive police state, and in the spreading of ignorance, all of it leading towards some sort of neo-feudalism.

Because of all that, I've come to understand and fully agree with this sentiment:

There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part! You can't even passively take part! And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels…upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop! And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

-- Mario Savio

The emphasis is mine

And for all those reasons, long ago I decided that when the people finally decide they've had enough, and realize that the best way to express that sentiment is to stop the goddamned machine altogether, that I will put my own personal interests aside and will stand in solidarity with them, ready to endure almost any inconvenience or hardship.

It is within this context that the BART employees are being maligned and pilloried by a crass and self-serving corporate media, including newspapers like The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Sacramento Bee, which have been running what I consider to be a relentless propaganda campaign against the unions representing BART employees, resorting to a shameful narrative that seeks to sow divisions and animosity between workers by appealing to our most basic (and crass) instincts when it comes to survival.

As those in power systematically strip larger and larger segments of workers off their rights, pushing them into economic insecurity, and as those workers find themselves struggling just to survive, these brutal tyrants prey on those feeling of insecurity, and anxiety by purposely pitting disadvantaged non-union workers against better paid union workers and government employees, again appealing to and exploiting our fears, and economic insecurity.

To understand the ethics, or lack thereof, of BART management when it comes to their motives, one only has to look at the guy the hired as the main negotiator: An ethically-challenged union buster.

BART's Lead Negotiator Has a History of Illegal Behavior

The transit agency has sought to portray its workers as being unreasonable, but it hired a private negotiator that has a record of violating federal labor law.

... To date, BART management has sought to portray the agency's train operators and station agents as being greedy and unreasonable for demanding pay raises. But what has gone unnoticed is the fact that BART management's lead negotiator and strategist, Thomas P. Hock, works for a private transportation company that has a long history of anti-union practices. Records also show that Hock and Veolia Transportation have repeatedly run afoul of federal labor laws and were previously ordered by federal authorities to stop engaging in illegal activities.

It is unclear why the BART board decided in April to hire Hock as lead negotiator and pay him $300,000. BART board members declined to comment about Hock's contract. The agency's agreement with Hock, who is a lawyer for Veolia Transportation, calls for him to "implement the labor relations strategy for 2013 collective bargaining with ATU [Amalgamated Transit Union] and SEIU [Service Employees International Union]." Under the agreement, Hock has substantial authority in the current negotiations, and is outranked only by BART General Manager Grace Crunican.

Members of both SEIU and ATU say that Hock's true labor relations strategy for BART is to bust its unions and make permanent the pay and benefits rollbacks that workers have endured in recent years. They believe Hock was brought in not to negotiate, but to create a crisis. "This is not about negotiating tough. This is about trying to bust the union," said Chris Finn, a BART train operator and the recording secretary of ATU 1555.

The emphasis is mine

This out-of-town union buster is actually getting paid almost $400,000, and true to form, continue to engage in questionable behavior.

BART Workers Blast BART Officials for Allowing Labor Negotiator to Charge First Class Air Travel, Alcohol and Parties at Other Transit Agencies to Taxpayers and Riders

Oakland, CA — Today [October 1, 2013] a story in the San Francisco Examiner exposed that BART Management has allowed its lead negotiator, Thomas Hock, to enjoy the high life in the Bay Area paid for by taxpayers, as he drives the region into another strike. While reviewing the transit agency’s contingency plan and expenses, analysts for BART workers also found that Thomas Hock has been billing BART for first class air travel, alcohol, private town car service, and a party donation to the CEO of another transit agency in Southern California. The district is paying Hock $399,000 to negotiate a contract with BART’s two largest unions, SEIU 1021 and ATU 1555.

Analysts have found that BART has reimbursed Hock for a total of $36,172 in personal expenses, including first class air travel to his home in Cincinnati, high-end wines at trendy East Bay restaurants, like Pican and Ozumo, and a $500 ticket to a retirement party for the CEO of the Long Beach Public Transit system. Hock even charged his Wall Street Journal newspaper to BART. The report, “A Union Buster’s Guide to Travel and Good Eats on the Public’s Dime,” details how Hock has billed nearly $600 in alcohol and over $3,500 in meals to BART during his current contract.

The unions for a very long time have been trying to call attention to the fact that the actual strategy by the BART management, and their negotiator, union buster Thomas Hock, is to push them to strike, knowing that that along with the relentless propaganda campaign by the media against the union, and the inconvenience a strike will cause to commuters, the public will turn against them.

On top of the fact that Mr. Hock has been MIA for much of the 60 days cooling off period (which ended yesterday), guess where he decided to go a couple of days before the end of the negotiating deadline?

BART: Tom Hock, Negotiator and Union Antichrist, Slated to Hit Disneyland

Searching for silver linings from BART's beyond-ridiculous, beyond-marathon contract melodrama feels a bit like shoveling through a pile of horse manure in hopes of unearthing that elusive horse.

But there is this: Late last night, the SEIU 1021union began chirping that BART's well-compensated and ethically questionable chief negotiator, Tom Hock, wasn't in the building. In fact, he's slated to be in the Happiest Place on Earth, which is far from BART headquarters both physically and metaphysically.

Yes, Hock is scheduled to be a featured speaker at Disneyland's 2013 California Transit Association Fall Conference. He is, at this very moment, supposedly delivering a speech with the legitimately ironic title "The Art of Negotiating the Deal."

The way things are, we're in some sort of catch 22 situation.  As more and more people are put in a position of increased economic insecurity, where missing one day of work could mean catastrophe, not being able to pay an important bill, or put food on the table, or pay the rent on time, those immediate survival needs are surely going to trump any type of desire to stand in solidarity with union workers who strike as the last resort.

At the same time, unless more and more people are willing to sacrifice and stand united with their unionized brothers and sisters, and support strikes and work stoppages, and other peaceful (disruptive) labor action, the subjugation and abuses by the ruling class will not only continue, but it will accelerate.

Another disconnect I observe is that social justice activists haven't still realized that they all must come together and find ways to act in unison, in coordination, strategically, and in a sustained manner.

For example, the other day (October 10th) I stopped by the 2nd Anniversary Celebration of Occupy Oakland.  Then on the 12th, I attended a rally in the San Francisco Mission District organized by a group of activists, local businesses, and community leaders against gentrification and and evictions of long-term residents and businesses.

They were both great events, full of energy, led by passionate and committed social justice activists... But as I attend these events (and I've attended dozens in the last few years) one question keeps popping up in my mind: What's keeping all these groups from forming strong, long-lasting, highly strategic coalitions capable of organizing actions in a sustained manner?

And the reason I think like that is because I've come to believe that the only way to take on these oppressive forces is for a large-enough segment of the population to stand together in opposition, in a sustained manner:

Indeed, Mark Lichbach, a professor of government and politics, has written in The Rebel’s Dilemma, that when more than 5 percent of the population engages in sustained, coordinated civil disobedience, few governments can remain in power whether they are a dictatorship or a democracy. The path to reaching this 5 percent begins when people who are already active in resistance build solidarity and draw more people to the movement. As more people see the movement growing and that there is a strategy to win, they will have the confidence to join it. Achieving the 5 percent tipping point with a diverse cross-section of society then becomes well within reach.
For a long time I used to get a little frustrated when I talked to people (activists) about these things, which I've come to see as "common sense" when it comes to being able to establish an effective resistance movement (against corporate state) oppression.

But after a while (a long while) I came to realize that the mistake (very serious) I'm making is that I'm looking at the whole thing in a kind of mechanical, dispassionate, calculative, matter of fact manner (the reason my wife teases me and calls me Spock, insinuating I have no emotions).

If this thing is going to happen, is not going to be because I, or anybody else for that matter, talk about the logistics, the strategic needs of the movement... The only way people will feel motivated enough to endure the type of sacrifice necessary to mount a sustained campaign against the abusive power structure is when their passions and emotions push them to do it.  And it seems to me that that will happen once enough people realized that the system is rigged, designed to subjugate them and exploit them.

I've come to realize that this type of tipping point can't be forced.  It has to happen on its own.  It will happen when it happens.  Whenever it does, I'll be there with you.

As I'm about to publish this diary, I just found out that BART workers went on strike.  Needless to say, I support them 100 percent.  And I would support an AC Transit strike (Brown steps in to avert AC Transit quagmire), and I would support a massive and relentless general strike, because long ago I realized that the machine needs to be stopped because its operation has become extremely odious, and oppressive.

But that's just me...  I don't expect you to follow suit.  But again, if or when you do, you can count on me standing side by side with you--for the long haul.

Facebook: Rally to Support BART Workers at Lake Merritt BART Station, 12:00 noon.

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